By Mary Ashton Mills
The sound grabs you right away and commands your attention. It’s the perfect blend of jazz and funk coupled with the signature “one beat” that stops you in your tracks as you think for just a moment about the music’s likeness to the late Godfather of Soul, James Brown. The band is part of an academy that is preserving the legacy of Mr. Brown himself.
James Brown Academy of Musik Pupils, known as JAMP, is not only safeguarding the legend’s legacy, but also fostering children’s interest in music at an early age by teaching music education and proficiency in multiple instruments. Their sound gets your attention, but their impressive list of performances is just as captivating. A gig opening for Prince in Chicago, trips to New York, Los Angeles and their recent performance at perhaps the crown jewel of country musical venues, the historic Ryman Theater in Nashville, are proof JAMP is going places. As part of the Georgia on My Mind tour, JAMP recently lit up music city while playing to a sold-out crowd of over 2,000 at the original Grand Old Opry, the Ryman Theater.
Building a Legacy
Five years ago, JAMP was created by the James Brown Foundation as a non-profit musical school. JAMP’s goal is “to motivate, educate and inspire children through the universal language of music and enrich their hidden musical abilities.”
Deanna Brown-Thomas, daughter of the late James Brown and the founder of the James Brown Foundation, remembers the wisdom her father used to whisper in her ear. “He stressed the importance of educating kids and keeping music in the schools,” says Brown-Thomas. She is helping to pay homage to her father by carrying on his influence on the music industry.
Today, JAMP is heavily based on education first and foremost. If grades fall, students aren’t allowed to play with the band. The JAMP kids are learning songs that their grandparents grew up on and putting their own spin on them. “These kids are going to look back at the time here and their experience and they will want that for their children one day and that, to me, is what legacy is all about,” says Brown-Thomas.
What Is Required?
In its inception, Brown-Thomas was able to meet with educational consultants and musical educators across the country and decided to partner with the Charles Henry Terrell Academy, Augusta’s first and only year-round fine arts school, to help write the curriculum. Today, JAMP’s student body consists mostly of students from CHTA, but enrollment is not limited to one school. JAMP is open to any and all students from the CSRA. “Music brings all walks of life together,” says Brown-Thomas.
For consideration, children age 5 and up must fill out an application and take part in an audition. These children are smart, well mannered, dedicated, spiritual and goal-driven. These aren’t your average children and teenagers who spend a few hours on the weekend playing electronics, going to the movies or hanging out with neighborhood friends. No, they are far too regimented for that. They are taking their cues from the “hardest-working man in the business.” Each day after school they attend classes at JAMP as well as on Saturdays. Their professionalism and dedication is obvious when you meet them. From their classroom space inside the Augusta Museum of History, they exude leadership, gratitude and respect and light up when discussing the music, their first language.
Hit It Maestro!
JAMP’s principal, Kimberly Baxter, accompanied by three maestros, leads musical education. According to Baxter each maestro has a role in developing the kids’ education. “Maestro Keith is the one with the James Brown sound. He’s got ‘the one’ and is the one who played with Mr. Brown,” says Baxter. “The one” refers to the specific one-beat that James Brown made famous. When other artists were emphasizing the two- and the four-beat, he nailed the one-beat essential to the true James Brown sound. Everything had to fall on that “one beat” for Mr. Brown and his band members. It was that moment of impact and no other artist could hit the one like Mr. Brown. Maestro Keith Jenkins toured with Mr. Brown for over 10 years and is now able to bring his knowledge of “the one” to the kids at JAMP.
Maestro Daniel Sapp brings yet another impressive talent to the program. GRAMMY nominated for a Music Educators Award in 2016, Sapp focuses on teaching music theory, a skill often neglected in schools. He also works on performance skills with the children.
Proving it’s not a man’s world any longer, Maestro Kendra Dent brings in a female perspective and teaches stage presence, dance, fitness and meditation.
Each One, Teach One
The school adopted an “each one, teach one” philosophy, where an older student mentors a younger student. By dividing the students into groups, mini-JAMPers and JAMP Masters, students are teaching and learning from their peers. The school feels like one big family. You can see the genuine love the younger ones have for the older students who teach them the skills they have already mastered.
Whether it’s playing instruments from the percussion, brass, woodwinds or strings, these children are focused. Their talents aren’t singular either. Many add singing and dancing to their repertoire. Most children learn and play several instruments during class and when performing on stage they switch things up too. “You put an instrument in a child’s hand and you see a miracle happen because you give them the chance to express themselves through that instrument,” says Brown-Thomas, remembering her father feeling the same way.
From 9-year-old Ian Hester, who plays the electric and acoustic guitar, to 16-year-old Brad Cannata, who is classically trained in percussion and has knowledge of almost all of the band’s instruments, the beat goes on. Cannata mentors Hester by getting the part under his fingers first and then giving Hester a simpler version to see if he can play it. It’s a vibe unlike any other, but that is just what Mr. Brown’s music is—a sound unlike any other. “The one,” the essence of James Brown funk, is rubbing off on these students at JAMP. They are poised to take off into the world to deliver their unique beat to music lovers everywhere. That is something that makes us all “feel good!” Encore!
For more information about JAMP performances, applications or to make a donation, contact them at 706-736-6216. Don’t miss the opportunity to “get on up” with JAMP at the upcoming JAMPcert at the Augusta Museum of History on July 24. Visit www.jamesbrownfoundation.com.
This article appears in the July 2015 issue of Augusta Family Magazine.
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